What exactly is going on?! Incredulous Black people across the nation want to know. now. While racist incidents have long been part of our consumption of news, it appears these they are more prevalent than ever. Some encounters are baffling and senseless, others clearly deliberate and heinous. They demonstrate the extent to which Black citizens can still be dismissed, discriminated against, and attacked – usually without any real fear of consequences.
Case in point, is the recent arrest of two young Black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks. The incident drew nationwide (and worldwide) attention because of the inanity of the whole thing and its stark example of white privilege, whether wielded with arrogance and malice or cluelessness and petulance.
Take Rashon Nelson and his friend Christopher Norris were waiting in the coffeeshop for a business meeting with a real estate investor. They had not yet ordered, but they did seek to use the bathroom. Manager Holly Harper refused to allow them access and asked them to leave, as they had not made a purchase. When they did not comply, she called police, who, upon arrival, also asked the men to leave, then handcuffed and removed them. Other customers in the shop at the at rime can be heard on videotape asking what the men had done wrong; some followed the cops outside to persist. The men were detained? Arrested?
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said that he was “ashamed” and met with Nelson and Norris to apologize. After Energetic protests were held outside the shop the next day and there were rumors of boycotts shaping up nationwide, with Black-owned coffee shops in several locales posted on social media.
Also discussed widely on social media is the recent incident in Macon, Georgia in which a 71-year-old white woman followed a two Black women soldiers into the Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen hurling insults because of their dispute over a parking spot. Judy James Tucker hurled expletives at Stephanie Mitchell, 34, and Treasure Sharpe, 27, and called them “dumb bitches” and lesbians. When Mitchell began videotaping her, Tucker became enraged and attacked Sharpe, lunging and slapping, even though Sharpe repeatedly yelled that she was pregnant.
“I’m pregnant!” Sharpe yelled, “Look at me! You’re pushing a pregnant lady!”
“Well, my husband is handicapped!” was Tucker’s reply.
When police were called, Tucker told them the incident started because, “she was white and it was a race issue.” Fortunately, the videotape revealed the actual progression of events, or the pregnant woman and her friend might have been taken to jail. Instead, Tucker was arrested and charged with assault and a local art school at which she teaches classes will no longer use her services.
Some good news on the racial bias front came from D.C. last week. It won’t necessarily assist in incidents like this one with Georgia, but it is directed toward policing. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced that local police officers will now be required to study Black history. Continued troubling interactions between Black citizens and members of the force despite a decrease in crime, makes the mandatory training a priority.
“We are committed to accountability, to strengthen the bonds of trust between MPD and our residents,” said Bowser. Members of the force will take a guided tour through the National Museum of African American History and Culture, attend a three-hour lecture on Black history, and take part in a lesson on U Street which examines police brutality.
“People who were supposed to serve and protect had played in the enforcement of discriminatory, racist and unjust policies and laws, said Peter Newsham, Chief of Police. “This museum includes very honest and poignant stories of the role policing played in some of the historical injustices in our country.”
Close to 80 officers have taken the training since January and the program will now expand, with an aim to have all 3,800 cops and 660 civilian workers trained by the end of 2018. Perhaps other locales will follow D.C.’s example. New York City’s police force is much larger, but the need is not smaller.